Kafka and Samsa: Unforgettable and Irreplaceable



Franz Kafka’s humour-laced, absurdist take on life and death ‘The Metamorphosis’ is best savoured in wholesome sips.With each read, we learn more about the bizarre trials and tribulations of the protagonist Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman perpetually buried under the burden of meeting family’s pressing needs and obligations. To begin with, the reader somehow accepts the phantastic premise of the story (one gloomy morning, Gregor transforms into a repulsive insect) but willfully treads the thorny path headed towards larger, uncomfortable truths, like the inevitably circumstantial nature of familial and societal relationships: how one ghastly metamorphosis can trigger equally gruesome mutations. While Gregor, in his invertebrate form, suffers a terrifying disconnect between mind and body, his family members graduate from feeble compassion born out of shock to a fierce hatred rooted in dysfunctional developments and horrendous social embarrassment.

There’s a tiny paragraph towards the fag end that would bring any sensitive reader to tears, although it unfolds the steely character of the protagonist’s resolve in matter-of-fact fashion, right after the door to his room is ‘hastily pushed shut, bolted and locked’ by the family, following an altercation with tenants following Gregor’s ‘guest appearance’ in the living room. No flourish of adjectives, no overt glorification, simply a running commentary about Gregor’s precipitous discovery of a latent truth: that he is not surprised at not being able to move at all, in fact, he finds his stationary position relatively comfortable, one which strengthens his conviction to 'disappear'.  

In his dark confines, his nagging pain gradually passing away, he slips into an empty and peaceful meditation all night long, till the wee hours of the morning. When the ‘first broadening of light in the world outside the window enters his consciousness’, ‘his head sinks to the floor of its own accord’ and the ‘last flicker of his breath leaves his nostrils.’

Thus ends his painful, protracted and futile struggle to fill the enormous vacuum caused by his vermin form. This is as dignified a death as death can ever hope to be, but alas! Gregor’s martyrdom must go unsung; worse, even cheered as good riddance. Kafka makes the settlement utterly unsettling, intentionally of course. One instinctively sides with the tragic hero, but there is nothing really that one can hold against the family. An earnest reader is simply left with a bagful of questions that demand introspection ahead of answers.

Beyond doubt, Kafka and Samsa are unforgettable and irreplaceable!

Al vs All

Watch: Gritty Vintage Making-Of Featurette For 'Dog Day Afternoon' Goes  Street Level | IndieWire

From the debut part in 'Me, Natalie' to the upcoming 'Trial of Axis Sally', his film career has been a whirlwind, as wayward as his life: of a troubled 'Bronx' childhood, deserting father, depressed mother, street gang patronage, and a host of desperate ways of earning money - from shoe shining to moving furniture. 

Thanks to the 'Panic in Needle Park', Francis Ford Coppola discovered him for the world's benefit, fighting Paramount Pictures and Mario Puzo who were dead against casting a nobody resorting to ad-lib to play Marlon Brando's youngest son in 'The Godfather', a pivotal character with maximum screen footage. The rest is a lot of history, geography and civics. 

We are not lucky enough to witness his theater performances like  'Hello, Out There',  'Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?', 'Richard III', 'Merchant of Venice', or 'Salome.' 

However, we do have an equally engaging option of watching his films all over again. 

His 'Micheal Corleone' is of course part of folklore, but he is unforgettable in most parts, save for a few trashy flicks where the shoddy material mars his sincerity, which hence appears gaudy. And we are not referring to "Godfather III" which was not as bad as the media would like us to believe.

It is so easy to excuse this short man of tall stature for all his temperamental liberties. 

All you need is pull back your chair without fastening the seat belt, such that you can feel the length and breadth of the character's screen turbulence:

Just picture Sonny's stunned expression in the concluding frame of 'Dog Day Afternoon', astutely set against the ruthless aerodrome noise.

Or you could recall the lovable Cuban Tony Montana in any scene of 'Scarface' - whatever the choice, the effect will be the same! Tony makes us believe in all the nonsense he believes in. There's no visible effort - either his or ours. 

You could rekindle the memories of the whistleblower cop Frank 'Serpico' who famously remarked - "I am retarded - I mean I am retired." 

or why not relive Arthur's heartrending wail from 'And Justice for All' - I can't appeal it, he's dead! he's dead! Half hour after they put him in the lockup, he hanged himself!"

There is an easier way out - you could simply exclaim "Hooha" with all your might.

He is not your everyday method actor; he makes method and madness delightfully synonymous. Precisely why his talent doesn't need the validation of Academy Awards, nor the showy endorsement of a blatantly exhibitionist media. 

At 81, he wants to play Pablo Picasso. Hollywood tycoons - Alfredo James Pacino deserves this treat as one of his swansongs. Just that he shouldn't be allowed to stop at Picasso. Let him say - "Just when I thought I was out ...they pull me back in."


'अशा पद्धतीने' and 'त्या ठिकाणी'

Indian talk show hosts love mindless debates on all issues.The Marathi Electronic media is replete with senseless "breaking news" reportage where two-penny anchors (read poor actors) are keen, nay desperate, to turn celebrities overnight, with their nonsensical sermons that invariably begin and end with 'अशा पद्धतीने' and 'त्या ठिकाणी' 
I couldn't believe my eyes and ears when one hostess pompously exclaimed in third person:
"मला लोकं विचारतात - ज्ञानदा, सांग ना, आम्ही काय काळजी घ्यायची कोरोना साठी - मी म्हणते, ज्ञानदा तुम्हाला काय सांगणार - ती हेच म्हणेल - सोशल डिस्टंसिन्ग ठेवा, घराबाहेर पडू नका, काळजी घ्या "

All the other channels have less scary versions of  ज्ञानदा in both genders.

God save this country, both from Covid and Covid journos. 

Statutory warning: there are no drugs or vaccines to counter the machinations and mutations of the latter category. 

Masters and Disciples

I met Sumitra Bhave at Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar Auditorium in Thane at the behest of Dr. Mohan Agashe. It was the screening of her film 'Astu', a film that lacks the Bhave touch we have learnt to take for granted. (More about it here: Elephant in the room)

Post the screening, we had a great time recounting the magic of her epic 'Vastupurush'. She seemed weary from age, but her enthusiasm, like most of her films, knew no bounds. Her creative partner Sunil Sukhtankar was discernibly guarded - typical of this tribe - but she seemed free of any baggage, as also claims of being a master filmmaker that she indeed was. Wish I had the opportunity to meet her again but that never happened. Her demise has deprived the pesticide-rich Marathi soil of a rare artist who could create a magic potion of art and activism with rare aplomb.   

The other day, I was overjoyed to catch the soulful timbre of her voice - ironically born out of a voice impediment - in 'Court' fame Chaitanya Tamhane's 'Disciple', a whimsical take on a delightfully introspective theme that refuses to take off (and deserves a court-martial)

Going by the rich accolades and the litany of over-obliging reviews, his film will indeed travel the world over; he is already a merchant of Venice, courtesy the 2020 competition entry. Yet, the gloss of his product can't condone the lackadaisical and lazy effort, basking in the glory of its maker's offbeat stature. The film had so much to go for it - a competent singer-actor (hard to find), a purposeful spoof on the reality TV template organically etched to the protagonist's tale of all trials and no triumphs, and a few enduring frames of everyday conversations that convey more than the gaudy moments that Tamhane chooses to underline with hubristic authority.    

On the face of it, Tamhane narrates the melancholic saga of a classical vocalist but ends up employing the pet motifs of the pseudo avant-garde arsenal to no avail: 'item numbers' rooted in mindless shock value that inevitably disturb the algebra and geometry of the theme. To convey the sexual frustration born out of clumsy infatuation, given all time and attention devoted to a cultivated loyalty to his Guru, the protagonist is made to masturbate on what seems like a staple diet of porn, with not one but two frames devoted to the solo sport. And for a guy who is definitively reticent and inward-looking, emptying his glass of lime juice on a caustic music critic in true-blue Bollywood style looks ridiculously out of place. And then, we also have the over-chewed concluding frame of a beggar rendering a folk tune in a moving train which many reviewers can't stop raving about  - (breathtakingly compelling, delightfully open-ended, surreally immersive, poignantly meditative et al)

Thankfully, Bhave's voice-over is a redeeming feature of this over-indulgent movie. If Tamhane truly cares for the given subject matter, we would urge him to make a biopic on the maverick Kumar Gandharva who exposed musical purists and modernists in the same breath, as also the high and mighty experts who make a living speaking and writing about music. Rich cinematic material there, befitting Tamhane's intrinsic talent, and a beckon of inspiration for aspirants who wish to walk the path that 'Disciple' claims to tread.  

The Peshwa among Doctor-Actors

mohan-agashe – IPHPune
 It's been close to a decade since I first met Dr. Mohan Agashe in the green room of Thane's Gadkari auditorium. Having hosted him at my place on a few occasions, I also had the pleasure and privilege of countless heart-to-heart conversations on his rich and varied clinical, stage and screen experiences as also on the larger issues of life and death...including the elusive spaces between and beyond them... needless to say, to the accompaniment of our favourite beverages.
The good doctor's insightful observations are invariably for keeps. Some of them have stayed with me longer than the others, in no particular order:
Sometimes in life, you are not allowed the luxury to choose. The choices choose you (On why he opted for a career in medicine)  
Ideally, one must have two professions - one for livelihood and the other for joyhood. This is because life rarely allows one the luxury of enjoying what one does and live off it too.
We must train doctors to differentiate between distress and disorder: one need not wait for distress to become a disorder before one begins treating it (Context: primary prevention in psychiatry)
I find playing a character born out of the writer's imagination akin to solving an exam paper. You don't know the exact answer, you write what you know in relation to the question. 
Freud's inspiration for solutions sprang from the plays of Sophocles. In my case, literature, theatre and films helped me understand my patients better - textbooks never did.  
I comprehended the Othello syndrome in the psychiatry ward, not on the theatre deck.
If you can't manage to transfer your cerebral learning to your sensory systems, it is rendered close to useless. (here the given context is acting, but the dictum applies to most things in life)   
The greatest gift of theatre for me is the freedom to establish a totally different relationship with space and time, which is otherwise possible only in one's dreams.
It took me some time to learn that though I knew psychology and psychiatry, the ones who actually practiced them were Jabbar (Patel) and our manager Shirdhar Rajguru. (Context: staging Ghashiram Kotwal performances
The person who taught us how to handle sound and image in films is Satyajit Ray. 
The fun of human life is the concurrent processing inherent in it.
A reading of Stanislavski will certainly improve an actor's psychology, though not necessarily his performance. 
I am extremely cautious when I meet an intellectual devoid of human warmth, because he can potentially abuse his intelligence and sway me in the wrong direction.  
Dr. Agashe, thanks for the wonderful treat you have thrown each time we have met. The Pune reunion we relished the other day proved even more memorable. For us, you are one of the living legends of a Pune that we crave for, especially given the city's rapid fall from grace in recent times.What was once India's leading cultural hub, and the den of mavericks by the dozen - social reformers, freedom fighters, thinkers, scientists, literary figures - is now an extended township of mindless migrants (who find every kind of encroachment therapeutic) and the vain purists among natives (who pledge fabricated allegiance to yesteryear heroes on the cusp of Bhandarkar Road and Prabhat Road) 

Having played unforgettable characters on stage and screen alike - whether the central Nana Phadnavis, peripheral Maruti Kamble, or the surreal Brahmin from Ray's Sadgati - and being a harbinger of the Grips theatre movement in India, you deserve a lot more from an industry which has very little to do with industriousness. Wish we could watch you play the professor in Alekar's Miki and Memsahib and wish your dream of staging Strindberg's 'Father' had materialized the way you had envisioned it. Clearly, you were bursting at the seams of your core group which fell short of satiating your appetite. All the same, thank god that you found your way out of it... and the Midas touch of the one and only Ray more than condoned the grave loss that you had to sustain in theatre.  
We profusely admire your courage and conviction in turning an accidental producer, without the deep pockets such a plunge calls for, solely for the sake of good cinema. Having said that, you deserve better support from the people you invest in; some of them are now a shadow of their former selves. The biggest problem with mediocrity is its contagion effect - one doesn't realize when monotony creeps into one's performances and worse, when one unknowingly cultivates a propensity for coping with mutual admiration societies churning out subpar products, one after another. Any day, we prefer to catch a fleeting glimpse of yours sharing screen space with Gregory Peck and Roger Moore in Sea Wolves (or even suffer the wrath of custom officer Sudarshan Kumar from the bearable no-brainer Kale Dhande Gorey Log)          

Waiting for the day when you get the God sent opportunity to play a character of a league now virtually extinct - whether Professor Isak Borg from Bergman's Wild Strawberries, Kanji Watanabe from Kurosawa's Ikiru, Nilakanta Bagchi from Ghatak's Jukti Takko Aar Gappo, or even Mukunda Lahiri from Ray's Nayak. In the hope lies the scope!
Blast from the past: 
Thought piece, India Infoline